by Earle Chute
What is Easter all about? There are lots of symbols and traditions associated with Easter. The word “easter” does not appear in our bibles, yet it is always associated with Christianity. It is one of the holiest days of the year on the Christian calendar along side of Christmas. Some would say it surpasses Christmas in its importance. However, the original word has a secular origin and meaning. Here is what some say of the origin of Easter:
“According to the Venerable Bede, Easter derives its name from Eostre, an Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring. A month corresponding to April had been named “Eostremonat,” or Eostre’s month, leading to “Easter” becoming applied to the Christian holiday that usually took place within it. Prior to that, the holiday had been called Pasch (Passover), which remains its name in most non-English languages.
(Based on the similarity of their names, some connect Eostre with Ishtar, the Babylonian and Assyrian goddess of love and fertility, but there is no solid evidence for this.)
It seems probable that around the second century A.D., Christian missionaries seeking to convert the tribes of northern Europe noticed that the Christian holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus roughly coincided with the Teutonic springtime celebrations, which emphasized the triumph of life over death. Christian Easter gradually absorbed the traditional symbols.”
What do you think of when you think about Easter? We often think of Easter bunnies and Easter lilies. We think of Easter baskets filled with candy. We think of painting Easter eggs. We think of Easter egg hunts. Or maybe it’s an Easter parade down main street. Some of us think of dressing up in our best clothing and going to a crowded church on Easter Sunday morning. (Some of us are like Easter lilies and “bloom once a year.”) What do you think about when you think of Easter? For me I think of the early Sunday morning after the death of Christ.
What does the bible say about the events in the life of Christ leading up to that Sunday morning? The four gospels lay out the details. Each account gives a slightly different snap shot of what took place. (Not contradictory accounts, but complimentary accounts.)
In John 13 we find Jesus in the upper room with the disciples before the Feast of the Passover. Here Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. Here they eat the “last supper.” Here Jesus announces his betrayal. The morsel is given to Judas, who leaves the upper room to betray the Son of God. John writes of that moment, “So after receiving the morsel he (Judas) went out immediately; and it was night.” (John 13:30)
Later that evening Jesus goes to the garden of Gethsemane with his disciples to pray. “And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him. (Matthew 22:39) While there, a crowd of officials and soldiers arrive and Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss. Throughout that night and early morning of the next day, Jesus goes through the mockery of six trials: 3 political and 3 religious. He is turned over to the Roman authorities, who mock Him, beat Him, spit on Him, and scourge Him to the point of death. He is literally flayed alive. His flesh separates from organs. A crown of thorns is crushed upon His head. The decision is made by Pilate to crucify Him.
Crucifixion was the chosen method of death for traitors, murderers, and enemies of the Roman state. It was a form of extreme torture and suffering. Often times the victim would live for several days on the cross until exposure and exhaustion led to death.
Jesus is led to the place of crucifixion, to the place of the skull or Golgotha. He is too weak to carry His own cross, so a man, Simon of Cyrene, is forced to carry His cross. “When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left.” (Luke 23:33) “And above His head they put up the charge against Him which read, “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” (Matthew 27:37) “It was the third hour (9am) when they crucified Him.” (Mark 15:25) “When the sixth hour (noon) came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour (3pm) At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘ELOI, ELOI, LAMA, SABACHTANI? Which is translated, ‘MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?‘” (Mark 15:33-34) At that point the sins of the entire world are placed upon Jesus. All the sins that have ever been sinned or ever will be sinned. That means all sins; past, present, and future. Jesus died for them all. “Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine (on the cross), He said, ‘It is finished!’ And He bowed His head and gave up His Spirit.” (John 19:30)
Because the Passover would begin at dusk, the Jewish authorities wanted the bodies off of the crosses. “Then the Jews, because if was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken (to hasten their death), and that they might be taken away.” (John 19:31) The soldiers break the legs of the two on the crosses besides Jesus. But when they came to Jesus, they did not break His legs. They thrust a spear in His side. Immediately, blood and water rushed out of the wound. Jesus was declared dead by the Roman executioners.
The body is laid in a borrowed tomb. Jesus is laid to rest. A large stone is rolled across the opening to the tomb. A Roman seal is attached to the stone. A guard is placed before the tomb to guard the body from the disciples or anyone else. But then Sunday comes! “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb.” (John 20:1) An angel appears to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and says, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying.” (Matthew 28:5-6)
On Easter Sunday, the Sunday after the crucifixion of Jesus, the tomb is found empty! What happened to the body of Jesus? Lots of theories abound to explain away the resurrection of Christ.
One theory is that the women went to the wrong tomb. If the women went to the wrong tomb, then all the authorities had to do was to go to the right tomb. They could have gotten the body of Jesus placed it in a cart and wheeled it through the streets of Jerusalem. Christianity would have “died in the womb.” Another theory is that Jesus didn’t die on the cross. When He was placed in the tomb, the cold, damp tomb awakened Him. But that means the trained Roman executioners were wrong. That means that Jesus was able to push aside the two ton stone, break through the seal, fight and defeat the Roman guard and declare to His disciples, “I am risen from the dead.” A very unlikely theory.
Another theory is that the disciples stole the body. The “meek and mild disciples,” who had deserted Christ, beat the Roman guards, rolled away the stone, broke the Roman seal, and were willing to die torturous deaths for something that they knew was a lie. Not possible. You might die for something that you knew to be true, but it would be unthinkable to die for something that you knew to be a lie. But this was the explanation concocted by the Jewish religious leaders to explain away the empty tomb. (Matthew 28:11-13)
So why was the tomb empty on Easter Sunday? Because Jesus had come back to life. He had risen. He had been resurrected from the dead. And that my friends is the true meaning of Easter, Jesus Christ has died for my sins, your sins, and the sins of the whole world, and has risen from the dead.
In 1 Corinthians 15 we read Paul’s classic treatise on the resurrection of Christ. He declares that the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ is of first importance. He states that the resurrected Christ has appeared alive to Peter, to the Apostles, to 500 of the brethren, and to him. He states that if the resurrection of Christ did not happen, then the following would be true of believers. Our faith is vain. Our faith is worthless. We have been found to be false witnesses of the resurrection. Those who have died in Christ have perished. We are of all men most to be pitied.
“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20) If Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, then Easter Sunday is the most important day of the year. It is the day we celebrate His resurrection from the dead. We celebrate forgiveness of our sins. We celebrate a new life. We have a hope for the future. We have heaven and eternity awaiting us. The sting of death has been removed. The penalty for our sins has been paid.
My friend if you have never trusted Christ as your Savior, what better day than Easter Sunday to put your faith in Him.
“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:57-58)
This article was written by Earle J. Chute, director of Campus Crusade for Christ at East TN State University
1. What are some of your Easter traditions?
2. Why is the resurrection of Jesus Christ so important?
3. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, then what does that say about our faith? What does it say about our eternal security?
4. Why do so many people today deny the resurrection and believe the various wrong theories about the empty tomb?
5. What is the best way to prepare your heart for Easter?